Preferred Citation: Hedeman, Anne D. The Royal Image: Illustrations of the Grandes Chroniques de France, 1274-1422. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.


Louis IX's Political Ideology

Recent studies of French political thought suggest that Capetian ideology, of which the Grandes Chroniques is an important manifestation, was firmly established by the mid-thirteenth century.[2] During Louis IX's reign, members of the court and of the abbey of Saint-Denis blended ideas first formulated among a handful of chroniclers and poets in the circle of Louis's grandfather, King Philip Augustus, into a coherent theory of kingship. Louis's saintly personality and dedication to the Crusades earned him a reputation in Europe as a preeminent Christian king.[3] Those close to Louis IX built upon his saintly reputation by promoting the concept of Christian kingship through expressions of royal power such as ceremonials, artistic commissions, and the text of the Grandes Chroniques . Although few of these expressions can be connected directly to Louis's patronage, they embody ideas about the special nature of French kingship that were important to his government.

The French king was presented as the rex christianissimus in the ceremony of coronation, three versions of which were elaborated during the reign of


Louis IX: the Ordo of Reims, c. 1230; the Ordo of 1250; and the Last Capetian Ordo (the Ordo of Sens), c. 1250–70.[4] As early as the Ordo of Reims, the ceremony contributed to the development of the mythology of kingship by stressing the origin of the holy oil with which the French king was anointed, oil thought to have been miraculously delivered by God at the baptism of Clovis, the first Christian king of France. Among the prerogatives given the king to reinforce his special status was the right to take communion of both bread and wine, a privilege normally restricted to the priesthood. Ideas about sacred monarchy expressed in the Ordo of Reims were developed further in the Last Capetian Ordo , which stressed that the French king was the "only one among all kings to be consecrated with heaven-sent oil." This ordo , probably used from Philip III through Philip of Valois, helped define the special nature of French kingship.[5]

The ordination of the French kings at their coronation gave them the miraculous power to cure scrofula, the "king's evil," in a second ceremony celebrating France's Christian kingship. Cures of illness by the king's touch are recorded as early as the reigns of Philip I and Louis VI, but after its first mention in a monastic treatise of the early twelfth century the royal practice of touching for the "king's evil" was not clearly discussed in chronicles or accounts until descriptions of the reign of Louis IX were written.[6] These descriptions indicate that Louis IX's reign marked, if not the revival of the practice, at least its increased visibility in midthirteenth-century France, and they clearly demonstrate that Louis possessed the power to heal because he was king of France, not because he was saintly.[7]

Louis's artistic commissions also promoted the holiness of French kingship. The Sainte-Chapelle, built to house newly acquired relics of Christ's passion, was dedicated in 1248, just before Louis set out on his first crusade. Its stained glass program places an unusual emphasis on Old Testament kingship, including Louis as the only king from the Christian era.[8] Commissions such as the Old Testament Picture Book (Pierpont Morgan Library, M. 638) merge Old Testament history and French kingship in an even more sophisticated way. Through secularized representations of royal actions in Old Testament stories, they infuse biblical action with contemporary resonance; in the process, biblical history becomes more secular and French royal history more sacred.[9]

Later in Louis IX's reign, royal commissions centered more frequently on French kingship without the mediation of Old Testament models. Thus coins struck during Louis's monetary reforms in the 1260s associated the king's shield with the cross and the legend "Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat," an assertion of Louis's sovereignty that presented him implicitly as Christ's representative on earth.[10] Since the barons were forbidden to copy Louis's écu d'or , these coins became a powerful symbol of his monarchy.

Similar attitudes toward the French monarchy are evident in commissions undertaken by the monks at Saint-Denis. In a move Louis surely approved in the 1260s, the abbey translated the bodies of several kings and queens of France to elaborately sculpted tombs arranged around the crossing of the abbey church.[11] This arrangement celebrated the genealogical continuity of the French ruling house, the descent of French kings from Merovingians to Carolingians and, through Louis VIII and Philip Augustus, from Carolingians to Capetians. The proximity of the royal tombs in the church to those of Saint Denis and his companions also attested to the special relationship between the French house and


France's patron saint. French kings therefore appeared in a privileged position suited to their status as "most Christian," a status that would be impressed upon all the pilgrims who came to the abbey church to visit the graves of the martyrs.[12]


Preferred Citation: Hedeman, Anne D. The Royal Image: Illustrations of the Grandes Chroniques de France, 1274-1422. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.